LONDON, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Ask archer Sherab Zam from the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan about the highlight of her Olympic experience and she has no doubts - meeting the queen.
Sherab was in the dining room of the athletes’ village in Olympic Park when Queen Elizabeth popped by, unannounced.
Her one team mate, shooter Kunzang Choden, was not there to share the moment as she was competing for Bhutan, one of 11 countries from 204 nations at the 2012 Olympics with just two athletes in their teams.
“I could not believe my eyes. The queen! I could never have dreamt this could happen to me,” Sherab, 28, told Reuters. “She was so cute, waving at us. My family will be amazed.”
Sherab will have to wait until she gets home to share the experience with her mother who brought her up single-handed. Her mother lives on farm in Kashithang in rural Bhutan without Internet access and erratic telecommunications.
Until then Sherab and her team mate are relishing being at London.
They entered on wild cards that are given to encourage developing countries at the Olympics and uphold the Olympic spirit that participation is more important than winning.
Bhutan has one of the smallest teams at London. The other 10 with only two athletes are East Timor, Sao Tome and Principe, Equatorial Guinea, Mauritania, Gambia, Dominica, Sierra Leone, the British Virgin Islands, Somalia, and Nauru.
Sherab and Kunzang have got used to explaining several times a day that Bhutan is a mountainous country wedged between India and China with 700,000 people, and, yes, it is the country with a happiness index used to measure its success.
The impoverished, largely Buddhist country is also known for only opening up to foreigners in 1974 and banning television and Internet access until 1999 amid concern that exposure to the Western world would erode its traditional lifestyle and values.
“We are a small country but a happy one, and one of the smallest at the Olympics. Lots of people know nothing about us and have to look us up on a map,” said Sherab with her trademark smile.
A Reuters analysis found that Bhutan - where archery is the national sport - is one of 82 nations that have never won a medal at any Olympics. Many of these countries have a history of war or poverty and have spent little on sport.
Bhutan, a country about the size of Switzerland, has competed eight times at the Olympics, always on wild card entries and always in archery. This was the first time it had a shooter competing.
London did not end the medal drought for Bhutan. Sherab came 61st out of 64 in the women’s individual archery. Kunzang came 56th out of 56 in the women’s 10 metre air rifle.
Both knew they stood little chance against rivals from well-funded nations with state-of-the-art equipment but they were pleased with their performances and for the chance to participate.
“I am not that good at archery but I love it. It was so good to meet world ranking archers who are famous and to watch how they do it. I have learnt a lot from them,” said Sherab, who has developed a liking for fish and chips since arriving in Britain.
Kunzang, 28, from the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu who is coached by her husband, agreed.
“I really enjoyed it. Now we can see how hard we need to work to be really good,” she said.
Sherab, who took up archery seven years ago, said she hoped that her participation at London would encourage other Bhutanese to aim high, particularly the youth with rising unemployment and discontent in Bhutan.
“When I grew up I never dreamt I would come to London, let alone compete in an Olympics,” said Sherab. “This just shows that anything is possible. The Olympics is great for that.”
Editing by Alison Williams